December 26, 2006

2006 in Review

Swingers, missers & those who shouldn't have gone up to the plate
2006 in review.

2006 was not a water-shed year. History will remember it without much favour, fervor or fanfare. History doesn't have much of a choice; the information is there but few are concerned. This year's elections in the Congo, during a civil war which has claimed more than two million lives, weren't worthy of more than two days of sub-headlines. Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan deciding to boycott underwear is, however, a major story. These are indeed cynical times.

When subjects like Congolese elections are discussed, key pieces of data are omitted or distorted: in this case the brutal turmoil can be traced back to the CIA's assassination of democratically elected anti-colonial President Patrice Lumumba in 1961 which paved the way for dictatorship and then disintegration.

When Britney, Lindsay and Paris are discussed, there are no shortages of points and counter-points, differing views on their pathetic, useless antics.

In most cases, there's not some sinister cabal of corporate planners and military hot heads directly controlling the news. The parametres of debate are set within extremely narrow confines by a conjuncture of sociological and economic factors which journalists rarely break. Thus, in deciding the greatest hits and misses of 2006, one must consider what should have been important, along with what came to be important.

The Five Greatest Hits

1) Harper edges to power with a poker face - Time Magazine's Canadian edition named Harper the top newsmaker for 2006, and unfortunately they are correct. Thus far, the Tories have kept a tight reign on their political cards and played smoothly, considering how far their politics diverge from popular opinion. Pundits are forecasting a spring election, but this probably won't happen. The Bloc know they can't win more seats than they currently hold. The Liberals aren't ready and the NDP is unfortunately on its way to disaster if something doesn't change. So for the next year, the Tories will continue to play poker and avoid showing their fully reactionary hand until, God forbid, they win a majority.

On the topic of God, some of the guys in Harper's cabinet are just plain crazy. Stockwell Day, the disgraced former leader of the Canadian Alliance party and our current Minister of Public Safety, honestly believes dinosaurs and humans co-existed on earth 6,000 years ago. "It's a matter of faith," Day told a TV audience. It reminds me of Cadillacs and Dinasours, the short-lived 'tween cartoon I enjoyed when I was nine. Stockwell's antics would be funny if they weren't so serious; they represent the political-religious outlook of the Tory's key base.

2) The world finally starts paying attention to global warming: Canada keeps its head in the oil sands. It's now almost universally accepted that global warming presents a clear and present danger to human survival. But Canada is dragging its feet.

Environment Minister Rona Ambrose's rhetoric at the climate change summit in Nairobi, Kenya was beyond pathetic. She shamefully blamed Canada's failure to meet its Kyoto obligations on the Liberals, as if anyone in Africa cares about internal Canadian political squabbles when the world's future is on the line.

It isn't an overstatement to say Alberta's tar-sands oil is destroying the country. Extracting it is far more environmentally devastating than pumping normal crude, as it requires large amounts of natural gas and water to separate the oil from the sand. Financially, us 'eastern bastards' are facing what economists call the 'dutch disease': oil investment is driving up the price of the Canadian dollar making exports uncompetitive. Canada needs to take global warming seriously and halting tarsands exploitation would be a good first step. It's rare when economics and environmentalism converge so imperfectly.

3) Israel Invades Lebanon, emboldens Hizballah, Iran. Israel's latest invasion of Lebanon this summer emboldened Hizballah (the party of God), along with Iran. Israel left Lebanon in shambles, again.

Hizballah is now the strongest force in the country and is on the verge of toppling the government of Fouad Siniora. Israel, once seen is an invicble U.S. protectorate, retreated in the face of scrappy little Islamists. Shi'ite Muslim power in Lebanon, Syria and of course Iran is on the rise: this will have major repercussions for the whole Middle East and the world who depend on its resources.

4) 21st century digital boys (and girls) revolutionize the mediascape: YouTube and Bloggers strike back.

This is really the only good news story to make our top five. The 100 most popular blogs have more viewers than the combined circulation of the New York Times and Washington Post, according to Orato media group, a popular blog site. And Youtube has 100 million daily viewers.

In the past, free speech was only available to people who could afford it.

Those who couldn't buy advertising or print newspapers were relegated to yelling on street corners when they wanted to spread a message. Giving average people a meaningful, accessible digital voice will strengthen democracy.

5) Atlantica set to transform the region: The plan to forge a trading belt between the Maritimes and the eastern United States creating a de-unionized economic zone without pesky minimum wage laws got some major boosts this year. Brian Lee Crowley, Atlantica's key intellectual architect was recently appointed senior policy adviser to Stephen Harper. The first conference of this "broad social project," in the words of Crowley, took place in Saint John amidst substantial protests.

The bell sounds for round two next summer in Halifax.

Three non-stories that made headlines

1) Shawn Graham elected Premier: A province yawns. This year's provincial election was arguably the most boring ever. Nothing changed. There was no serious debate and both parities were (and are) almost identical. Ever wonder why people, especially us youngersters, are staying away from the ballot box in record numbers?

2) Iraq's occupation remains miserable, ineffective and unimaginably violent. This is a major story, especially for the 655,000 Iraqis who have lost their lives in the pit of occupied, sectarian hell which their country has become.

Iraq makes the non-news category, because anyone with a brain could have predicted this outcome in 2003 when the invasion commenced amidst the biggest protests in world history.

Rather than being a Bushified misnomer in American foreign policy, Iraq is the clearest emaciation of the rule. And, unless God herself gets involved, as Bush and Co. are hoping, the situation will only get worse in 2007.

3) Prime Minister deems Quebec 'a nation': For Canadian studies enthusiasts this could be considered the act of the decade. For the rest of us, nothing changes: another politico engaging in cynical tactics designed to win votes among Francophones. Chances are it won't work.

So raise a toast to 2006. Let's hope there are more good news stories in 2007.

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